Monday, March 28, 2011

Notes from the Cave

I don't really have much in me tonight, but I feel like I need to put something out there on the airwaves to appease my multitudinous reading audience.

It's hard to believe it's been nearly 6 months since I last wrote a legitimate essay on religious scholarship.  What the heck has happened to me?  I started a book on Paul about 2 months ago and I don't even remember where I was.  I've only read about 15 pages, and haven't touched it in probably 6 weeks.  Obviously I've burned myself out; the question is, will I ever get interested again?  And what about the 4 or 5 unread books I still have on my shelf?  Will they ever be read?

Guess it's a good thing I never went to graduate school in this field - there was a time when I seriously considered it.

I suppose if this apathy keeps up, I'll have to redesign my blog, since it's hardly a "resource for fellow travelers on the Way" anymore.

In sporting news, unless you are a UK basketball fan, or maybe possibly a Green Bay Packers fan (because they're the only other sports fans I can think of that are like UK fans), you can't possibly understand the pleasure I have derived from UK's success this past weekend in the NCAA tournament.  As I wrote in my last post, I didn't have high hopes of UK beating Ohio State, but I said they could do it if they brought their A-game.  And bring it they did, particularly on defense.  It was without question their best defensive outing of the year.  And it was really, really exciting to see them put down the tournament favorite and the team that was basically on top of the standings all year.  

And then to have UK turn around and beat the old blueblood nemesis UNC on Sunday was just a huge cherry on top.  I was so emotionally spent from Friday's game against Ohio State that I only DVR'd the UNC game on Sunday, and watched it only after finding out the score.  I know that may sound like poor fan behavior, but it's an indication of how emotionally connected I get to big games like this.  I simply couldn't take doing it again 36 hours after the heart attack I had over the OSU game.

You may recall this post I made prior to the start of the post-season.  In it, I listed five reasons not to discount UK in the NCAA tournament.  Even though I was arguing for UK being poised to make a deep run, I even admitted that I didn't hold out much hope for a championship.  That, of course, has all changed now, and now I feel like they have a very legitimate shot.  I pretty much regard the upcoming Final Four game against UCONN as I did the games against OSU and UNC - with guarded optimism.  They can let Kemba Walker get his points; it is the rest of the team they need to shut down.  If they do that, I think they will succeed.  If not, then UCONN probably moves on.

Win or lose, a Final Four year is always a successful year, and it is nice to have that monkey off our collective backs.  Prior to this, UK was on it's longest streak ever without a Final Four appearance - 12 seasons.  It's even more special this year because it was somewhat unexpected - certainly by the mainstream media - and particularly after last year's team should have made it and did not.  

And let me do a little shameless bragging: ESPN offers a huge NCAA Tournament bracket challenge each year.  It's all free and all you win is bragging rights - so I'm bragging.  I did 5 brackets, and one of them is in the 99.2 percentile - meaning it's better than 99.2% of the entries.  That's out of about 6 million.  Naturally I didn't pick Butler and VCU in the Final Four, but I did get Kentucky and Connecticut.  Unfortunately I picked Pittsburgh to win it all.

On the medical front, I am still having off and on stomach problems.  I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but I have found, oddly enough, that Advil eases the pain.  This came as quite a surprise to me, because who would think to take Advil for a stomach ache?  The only reason I even tried it is because I was desperate in the middle of the night one night and was willing to try anything to ease the discomfort.  I've been wondering about this, of course, and today a patient said something to me that clicked: she was telling me about her medical history, and mentioned that ibuprofen (which is what Advil is made of) helps her "stomach issue," which she went on to say was a hiatal hernia.  A hiatal hernia is when the top of your stomach protrudes through your diaphragm - the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen.  The hole there is for the esophagus to connect to the stomach, but sometimes the stomach will push through it.

I've wondered all along if this issue of mine could be a hiatal hernia, but I kind of forgot about it after the doctor didn't act like she thought that sounded likely.  Now I'm wondering again if that's what it is after all.

In any case, I haven't been able to get back to see the doctor because I've been so busy.  The stress of work and everything else in my life certainly doesn't help stomach problems.

This post has gone on way too long, particularly considering I said at the outset that I didn't have much in me tonight.  Guess I was wrong about that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Notes from the Cave

The kids finally have a bunch of other kids in the neighborhood to play with.  This is a first for them.  We didn't live in our first house long enough for our older daughter to ever reach the point of playing outside, and in our second house, there were no other kids on our end of the street for her and our younger daughter to play with.

That's all changed now.

Across the street are two boys and a girl.  Next to them are two girls who are the same ages as my two girls.  And next door to us is another girl and boy.  There are a few others a bit farther down the street as well.  It's been sunny and warm this week, and the adults all stand around outside talking while the kids run rampant across the yards of four houses.  We've been getting all the good neighborhood gossip and finding out about the people who lived here before us.  Turns out, the original owners are people M knows from the school where she teaches (which is just around the corner from us).  That's a bit weird for her, as you can imagine.  

Someone - I think it was a commenter right here on my blog - suggested jumping rope to get some exercise, and I've taken their advice.  I've been keeping a log each day ("not that I have a log") of how many jumps I do - 50 has been the minimum I've started with.  It's a heck of a lot harder than you might think - especially if you are 50 pounds overweight like I am.  I can feel fat and tissue in my body jiggling that I didn't even know I had. 

I've had to start taking Prilosec for a stomach problem that has cropped up over the last few weeks.  Basically, I've been having frequent - sometimes constant - upper abdominal pain.  No nausea or vomiting or anything like that, just a stomach ache that comes and goes.  I got an Ultrasound of my gallbladder, to rule out an infection there (the exam was negative).  The Prilosec seems to be helping so far, but we'll have to give it a little more time to make sure the symptoms don't come back (they went away originally for about a week before coming back again, and it was after that second bout that I started the Prilosec).  

My house will be infested with 3rd graders this weekend.  My oldest is having a belated birthday party.  Her birthday is in early January, and that was a really bad time for us (we were still in the apartment, and getting ready to move), so we had to postpone her sleepover with friends until now.  The Cave is going to be Romper Room for a night, and M is bugging me to get the Wii set up downstairs for them.  

Saw a Motley Crue concert on TV the other day (sorry, I ain't searching the keyboard to figure out how to put the little umlauts over the o and u).  It was from 2005, and they are all wasted old ex-addicts, but they still sound really, really good.  Nikki Sixx somehow manages to make bedhead look cool.  I don't know how he does it.

Most former heroin addicts don't look this good.  Believe me, I see them at the hospital all the time.

In the world of college basketball, I was happy to see UK get past West Virginia - whom they lost to in the Elite Eight last year - and move on to this year's Sweet Sixteen.  I'd love to say I think they have a good shot at beating OSU in the Sweet Sixteen, but I don't see it happening.  If UK brings their A-game, then it might happen, but anything less than their best is not going to cut it, and even their best may not cut it, if OSU is also on their own A-game.  

A recent Facebook post that eleventy billion people "liked" said something about a spur-of-the-moment standing ovation that a group of people in an airport gave to a group of soldiers getting off a plane.  First of all, I suspect the whole story was probably made up for the purpose of giving people a warm fuzzy.  Secondly, can you gag me a little bit deeper, please?  Sheesh.  Just because a few hippies spit on a few Vietnam vets and called them baby killers 40 years ago doesn't mean the rest of us should have to spend our lives making up for it.  I'm all behind our troops, hope no harm comes their way.  But I ain't gonna applaud them when they walk by, for cripe's sakes.

Federal taxpayer money spent each year on NPR: About $7 million.  
Federal taxpayer money spent each year on Congressional salaries: About $105 million.  

How about instead of de-funding NPR, we cut Congressional salaries by 7%?  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Conversation on the Japan Tragedy

The following is a fairly close recounting of a conversation I overheard today while in the waiting room at the doctor's office.  The two people having this conversation were pharmaceutical reps in suits and ties.

Man 1: So was it an earthquake and then tsunami, or did the tsunami happen first?

Man 2: I thought the earthquake was first.

Man 1: No, I'm pretty sure the tsunami hit, and then the earthquake happened after that.

Man 2: Well, what caused the tsunami then?

Man 1: Hmm.  I don't know.

Brief pause.

Man 1: All I know is that as soon as I heard about it, I thought: "Man, what did YOU do to piss off God."

haha aha haha chuckle chuckle hmmph hmmph hardy har har

Man 2: I couldn't help but think of a Godzilla movie.  You know...everybody running around saying "aaaghh!"

hahaha  haha chuckle chuckle hardy har har tee hee hee

Sunday, March 13, 2011

They're Sending the Old Man Home

He's afraid he's talking too much.

"I don't have anybody to talk to at home," he explains.  

It's okay, I assure him.  No problem at all.  

He fought in World War II, he says.  An infantryman in the Army.  He went to Italy and fought the Germans there.  The Nazis were fortified up in the hills and mountains; his platoon was below, hiding in the valley.

Another soldier wanted to get up and run.  He told him to stay in the hole, that moving now would reveal their position, put the whole platoon at risk.

"Says who?" the soldier demanded.

"Says this bullet in this rifle," he replied.  

The soldier stayed put, but later reported him to the senior officer.  The major took his side, told him he'd done the right thing.  

"I wanted to keep my boys safe," he says.  "All of them."  

Some of his friends from boot camp died in Normandy, he says.  Omaha Beach.  They were hillbillies, loved playing guitar and singing bluegrass music.  He took a liking to them, because his mother was from Appalachia.  He sings me a line from one of the songs they used to sing.  

They both died getting off the transports.  Never even made it to shore, as far as he knows.  

"Put your hands together and bring your elbows up," I tell him.  "Like you're saying a prayer."

He does that a lot, he says.  Talks to Him all the time.  

He's married and his wife is still living, but she's in a home now.  They're going to put him in a home now too, because he can't take care of himself anymore.  He's sure they'll take good care of him there.  It'll be a nice place.    

He loves our hospital.  Says it's where he always likes to come.  We take good care of him.  We're good people.  

He's still talking as the transporter wheels him away.  

I finish my paperwork, but I'm still thinking about a kid in Italy under German fire, and an old man in a hospital on his way to a nursing home, and I feel small.  

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

5 Reasons Not to Ignore the Wildcats

Only in Kentucky can a 22-8 regular season, finishing up with a top 15 ranking, be considered a “down” year for a college basketball team.  But that’s the stark reality of the thing.  We have high expectations, and for most of us, anything less than at least a Final Four will be a letdown.

“Down” years aside, I think it is a bit premature to dismiss Kentucky as a potential NCAA tournament threat.  Am I going to place money on a Kentucky championship this year?  Well, probably not.  But I think it would be a mistake to assume they are a non-issue.  Consider these five points:

1.  John Calipari.  Look: we all know that Calipari is one of those coaches that people love to hate.  I couldn’t stand the guy before he came to Kentucky, but I was thrilled when he got here.  Love him or hate him, he’s taken his previous two teams to the Final Four and made them programs of national prominence.  We can argue all day over how much involvement he has had in any underhanded recruiting issues (the NCAA has said none), but none of that changes the fact that his teams have been contenders because of good coaching.  He’s got what it takes to get his team ready for a deep run in the tournament. 

2. Points + Rebounds per Game.  Kentucky is in the top 30 in both points and rebounds per game – 24th in points, and 26th in rebounds.  That’s better than Ohio State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Pittsburgh, just to name a few. 

3. Record Against Ranked Teams.  Kentucky is 5-2 against teams ranked in the top 25 this year, with the two losses coming on the road to Vanderbilt and Florida.  They beat a good Louisville team at Louisville by 15 points.

4. Home Crowd Advantage.  Kentucky plays phenomenally at home.  In fact, they haven’t lost there in over two years.  Their Achilles heel this year has been road games in the SEC.  They were embarrassed several times, including at Arkansas in late February.  In the NCAA tournament, they won’t be playing any SEC road games.  Of course, they also won’t be playing any home games at Rupp Arena.  But anyone familiar with Kentucky basketball knows that when Kentucky plays neutral site games – particularly in the NCAA tournament – the crowd is almost always predominantly blue.  This is one of the benefits of having a devoted fan base like Kentucky has.  They follow you wherever you go.  This season, in non-SEC road games and neutral site games, Kentucky is 5-2, with three of those wins against top 25 teams. 

5. Overall Record.  Kentucky’s overall record this season was 22-8, good enough to put them 15th in the final regular season AP poll.  It doesn’t seem nearly as impressive, however, as Ohio State or Kansas’ 29-2.  But consider this: of Kentucky’s eight losses, five of them were by 2 points or less.  That means Kentucky is literally a mere 10 points away from being 27-3.  Ten points.  A few made free throws here, a few stops there, and Kentucky is probably ranked in the top 5, maybe even the top 3.  All five of those close losses, by the way, were true road games – 4 in the SEC and one at UNC (who, by the way, is currently ranked 6th in the country). 

All in all, I think that Kentucky’s performance this year, and their subsequent record, is deceptive.  It only seems like they aren’t a legitimate NCAA threat this year.  In fact, they are only 10 points away from being a top 3 or 4 team!  For those of you who like the numbers games, their RPI this year is 12th best in the country, and their all important Strength of Schedule is also 12th – higher than Ohio State, Duke, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame – all of whom are in the discussion for number 1 seeds in the tournament. 

Monday, March 07, 2011

Christianity and Paganism: A Casual Discussion

After being asked a few months back about my views on how paganism may have influenced Christianity, I have spent quite a bit of time attempting to write out a nice essay explaining my opinions.  Unfortunately, I have found it next to impossible to "get it on paper," as the saying goes.  After several valiant efforts, I have abandoned the originally essay.  Instead, I want to just talk briefly and casually about my thoughts on this subject.

In recent years - thanks in large part to the Internet - there has been a lot of talk and discussion about the influence of pagan ideas and beliefs on the rise of Christianity.  A few years back, there was an Internet movie called Zeitgeist that caused quite a sensation in this regard.  It was ultimately a film about how 9/11 was an inside job, but the first segment of the film discussed some incredibly provocative theories about the origins of Christianity and its connection to pagan beliefs - particularly the religion of ancient Egypt.

I wrote a long and scathing critique of the movie's religion segment a few years back, so I won't repeat myself here, other than to say that virtually the entire thing, from beginning to end, was balderdash of the most insidious kind.  Be that as it may, the movie has helped to spark some healthy debate on the subject.  There have also been some books out recently discussing these topics, though I have not personally read them.

To put it simply, I think the question of pagan influence on Christianity turns first on what aspect of Christianity one is talking about.  In terms of Christian theology and doctrine, there can be no doubt that paganism had a profound effect.  Beginning in the 2nd century, Christianity had become almost exclusively "Gentile" - that is, non-Jewish.  A a full-blooded Jewish sect in the 1st century, Christianity went through a painful separation in the last few decades of that century and by the year 100 or so, it had essentially become a whole new religion.  

As a Gentile religion, it sought converts from among the pagan religions of the Roman empire.  Like any religion, most of its adherents eventually came from within - that is, they were born to Christian parents.  But in the first few centuries of Christian history, many, many former pagans converted to the new religion, particularly in the 300's C.E., after it became the official religion of the empire.  It was during this same time, of course, that much of the theology and many of the doctrines Christians still follow today were developed and put into practice.  As such, pagan beliefs that converts brought with them deeply and greatly influenced the development of Christian theology and doctrine.  

Consider, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity, which could easily be viewed (particularly by an outsider) as watered-down polytheism: three gods in one, separate but equal.  This doctrine was formulated during those early centuries when pagan (i.e. polytheistic) beliefs were still common.  

Related to that issue is the question of the divinity of Jesus.  This was a huge issue in the early church, particularly during the 2nd century.  Was Jesus God or man?  Divine or human?  The Trinity, of course, ultimately answered that question for Christians, but the very nature of the debate was the result of non-Jews attempting to understand the distinctly Jewish stories about Jesus.  I am firmly convinced that no self-respecting Jew - even a Jewish Christian - would ever have considered Jesus to be one and the same with God.  Such a notion would have been so fundamentally contrary to all that it means to be Jewish that only non-Jews could have considered it.  Jesus-as-God is a notion that did not arise in Christianity until it became a Gentile religion.  Among pagan religions, the belief that humans could be gods was commonplace, so common, in fact, that it's one of the defining characteristics of many ancient religions.  It is not surprising, then, that the Gentile-dominated early Christian church was amenable to the notion of Jesus being one and the same with God - a notion that would likely have left Jesus's earliest followers, not to mention Jesus himself, in the stunned silence of a major blasphemy. 

So on that subject - pagan influences on Christian doctrine and theology - there is no doubt that it played a major role.  

This, however, is not particularly controversial.  What is far more provocative is the idea that paganism influenced the very telling of the Jesus story itself.  Forget 2nd and 3rd century institutional doctrine; these theories suggest that Jesus may never have existed at all, and whether he existed or not, the stories about his life were developed from pre-existing themes in ancient religion and don't really represent anything historical.

These theories and arguments make for good fiction - and if you ask the producers of Zeitgeist, probably a lot of money too - but in my opinion there is very little of substance to them.  Zeitgeist, as I said, is a pack of lies from beginning to end, but even among the more "mainstream" theories of pagan influences on Christianity, most of it is unfounded speculation.

One thing that any reputable historian of early Christian history will tell you is that the stories of Jesus, and the entire gospel tradition, is a deeply and profoundly Jewish one.  Indeed, the inability (or unwillingness) over the ages of institutional Christianity to recognize the distinctly Jewish nature of Jesus and the stories about his life is, in my opinion, one of its biggest failures.  There is virtually nothing in the gospel tradition about Jesus that cannot be traced to some aspect of Judaism and Jewish history and tradition.  

Consider, for instance, the story of Jesus' birth.  This is one of the more popular stories that the revisionists like to link to paganism.  There's no question that Jesus wasn't the first person in history to have a virgin birth story connected to him.  Therefore, Luke and Matthew must have drawn it from pagan sources, right?  Not necessarily.  All the themes from these accounts of Jesus' birth can actually be traced right back to the Old Testament - the Jewish scriptures.  For crying out loud, Matthew even quotes Isaiah to back up his claim that Jesus was conceived by a virgin.  This idea doesn't come from pagan influence - it comes right out of the sacred scripture of the Jews!   

The same is true for many of the other stories about Jesus's life.  Consider the 12 disciples of Jesus.  I tend to think that the notion of an inner group of exactly 12 men is a creation of the primitive Christian community.  I think the truth is that Jesus probably had a lot of followers, some of whom came and went.  There was probably a core group that was with him the longest, but it wasn't necessarily exactly 12, and later there was a lot of controversy over who, precisely, had been part of this inner circle.  If this is correct, then we need to explain where the notion of "12" came from.  The pagan-influence theories suggest the 12 signs of the Zodiac (I think this is an argument made in Zeitgeist, in fact).  But this, of course, is silly.  Clearly the 12 Tribes of Israel would be the logical conclusion about where the notion of 12 disciples may have originated.  There is even a quote attributed to Jesus making this explicit comparison, when he tells his disciples that they will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.  Furthermore, it is a perfect literary creation: just as the original 12 sons of Jacob became the patriarchs of the Jewish people, so the 12 disciples would become the patriarchs of the new Christian community, with their converts becoming the new 12 "tribes" - the new people of God. 

Ultimately, whether the existence of exactly 12 disciples is history or legend, it is distinctly Jewish, not pagan.  

In the end, I think it goes without saying that pagan beliefs had a lot of influence on later Church doctrine and theology.  I do not, however, think that pagan traditions had much influence on the telling of the stories about Jesus.  In fact, I'm not sure there is any reason to suppose that any of what we find in the gospels comes primarily from pagan tradition.  Now it's true, of course, that Judaism itself, by the time of Jesus and the gospels, was greatly Hellenized.  But only inasmuch as Judaism itself had been influenced by Greek culture and philosophy did any pagan thought, myth, or tradition play a role in the development of the gospels about Jesus.   

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Notes from the Cave

After being scheduled off 6 days out of 9, I'm now in the middle of 7 days straight at work, with only one day down so far.  This is one of the downsides to hospital work - a rotating schedule.  The string of off days are great, but you pay for it in spades.

I think I've managed to avert a sinus infection by starting up a regimen of Zyrtec, allergy nose spray, and Breathe Right strips.  The nose spray and the Breathe Right are both new things for me, although the nose spray was actually prescribed last summer (no, the bottle is not expired yet).

I had a definite sinus infection coming on earlier this week, and the meds have basically stopped it in its tracks.  That's a good thing, considering my 7-days-in-a-row at work.  The thing that has been amazing are those Breathe Right strips.  I never actually knew how they worked.  Turns out, they are just like really stiff band-aids with an exceptionally sticky adhesive.  You stick them across the bridge of your nose, and the strip pulls the exterior of your nose outwards, which in turns widens your airway.  You feel sort of like your nose is a balloon full of air - but that's a good thing for someone like me who hasn't breathed clearly through my nose in, I dunno, about 10 years.  The widened airway not only helps you to breathe in more air, but it also clears congestion, because it allows your nasal passages to drain better (at least, I'm assuming that's how it works).  So not only do you suddenly feel like you could vacuum with your nose, but the congestion also goes away.  I've only used them two nights so far, but already I'm addicted.  I've literally been looking forward to bed time all day so I could put another one on.

Yes, this is the sort of shit that happens when you get old.  You start looking forward to applying Breathe Right strips to your nose.  Next thing you know, it'll be excitement over your daily glass of Ensure.  And before long, anticipation of Wheel of Fortune and the nurse coming in to change your diaper.

My sister, Lisa LeBon, is all a-tingle because a movie is being filmed at the university where she works.  Her husband, Simon LeBon, is out on tour right now with his band, Duran Duran, and she is biding her time by stalking Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.  Come to find out, Ryan Gosling and John Gosselin are not the same people, although I've always equated them together up until today.  You probably know Ryan Gosling from his guest appearance on Canada's Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, during season four's "Dragons' Lair" episode.

There was an article today on about how scientists have recently pointed out that the big snowstorms in the northeast this year are consistent with the model of global warming.  As soon as I saw the headline, I knew the Comments section would make for some entertaining reading.  Here are a few tidbits:

From 411PatriotScience used to be a widely respected field...... until the global warming lies were uncovered. It has made the entire scientific community hard to trust anymore..... nice job @ss wipes.

From libsrcrazyThese so-called scientists will blame every weather change on their global warming hoax!!! Give it up already! The jig is up.

From RockmanForteLaugh while you can according to the bible. This world is going to get worse. Be warn just like in Noah's time. Stop laughing and starting study the bible (No, I dont mean go to church and listen to liars priests and nuns at all). WOKE UP!

From 6burghUnfortunately moonbat libs will believe it or actually dont believe it but think its cool to believe cause so hollyweird kook will say they believe in it. if that make sense.

There was at least one perceptive comment, from a person named soul68I love all the inane comments from people on this board who probably couldn't pass a basic high school science class.


This is my grandfather, Oscar Kirby.  He died when I was 13.  The name of the horse escapes me (although I'm sure Lisa LeBon will remember it), but the picture was taken on the gravel entrance to his farm - probably circa 1982 or so - in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where both sides of my family have connections going back over 200 years.  His grandfather on his father's side was a Civil War veteran of the Confederacy, while his great-grandfather on his mother's side was a Civil War veteran of the Union.

You have NO IDEA how much I wish I could jump into this picture.